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Eastern Caribbean gov’ts rushing to save LIAT

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BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (CMC) — Caribbean governments are looking towards securing financial assistance from the European Investment Bank (EIB) for the regional transportation sector amid concerns that shareholder governments may be forced to close down the cash-strapped regional airline, LIAT.

Prime Minister Mia Mottley, whose country is one of the four major shareholders of the Antigua-based airline, has confirmed that she has started discussions with the EIB on support for the region’s “transportation sector”.

While she did not name the struggling airline by name, she told reporters that during her recent visit to Canada and the United States, she met with the EIB Senior Vice-President Alexander Stubb, adding that the European bank has expressed a willingness to assist with regional projects.

“The EIB doesn’t only lend to the government, it also lends to private companies like the Barbados Light and Power in the past and it has also engaged here with not just national projects but also regional projects.

“And as the lead prime minister for the single market and single economy, I also had to engage in discussions with them on opportunities within the transport sector in particular, with respect to the EIB and its role in the region,” Mottley said.

Her announcement comes in the wake of a statement by St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, earlier this month, that the regional carrier may be forced to close its operations after Caribbean governments appear reluctant to provide the necessary cash injection needed to keep the airline flying.

Speaking on a Grenada Broadcasting Network (GBN) programme, Gonsalves said only Grenada so far had responded positively to the call for US$5.4 million to help the airline deal with its current financial problems.

“Prime Minister (Dr Keith) Mitchell has put in approximately one million dollars towards emergency funding because he is interested in seeing LIAT remain in the sky”, Gonsalves said, hinting that LIAT, which has a complement of 10 aircraft will soon have to be made on the way forward.

Three of the aircraft are owned by the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) that provided the funds to the regional government shareholders to purchase them while the seven others are leased.

“We probably will have to ask the CDB to sell those three aircraft and operate seven of them and then get another smaller airline, like One Caribbean, to fly between here and St Lucia, rather than get LIAT to fly on one of the routes which is going to Trinidad which is not economical.

“The governments have not been responding so the shareholders are reaching a critical point now and if you ask me, what is likely to happen … there will be a transitional restructuring leading to a closure of LIAT,” Gonsalves told the GBN programme, adding that a new airline would then have to be the next option for the region if LIAT is closed.

When asked to share more information about the initial meetings with the EIB on transportation in the region, Mottley declined, but promised to do so in due course, adding that “running a government means going where the policy takes us, where the data takes us and where the information is.

“The discussions with the EIB are preliminary but by the same token there are very few entities that the region, as a whole, can borrow from with respect to regional projects. The Europeans, in spite of everything else, have remained engaged with us, they understand the dynamics of a single market because they themselves have literally managed a single market and single economy for decades. So, when we are ready to speak on that, rest assured we will be,” Mottley said.

Apart from Barbados, the other shareholder governments of LIAT are St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda.

Earlier this month, LIAT said despite pilots and its workers across all its 15 destinations agreeing to a six per cent salary cut, the airline is still facing a severe financial problem and may require additional salary cuts from its employees.

According to an internal document seen by the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC), following a shareholders’ meeting in St Vincent and the Grenadines, the regional airline said that the six per cent cut did not go far enough.

“The shareholders are of the view that this proposal did not go far enough and that the six per cent cut did not meet the immediate cost reduction objectives of the company at this time.”

The document said that the shareholders are ‘considering additional measures to address the financial challenges of the airline and that it would continue to update staff on discussions and the proposed measures that will be agreed upon”.

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Saudi Arabia eases travel restrictions on women

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Saudi Arabia eases travel restrictions on women

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AFP) — Saudi Arabia yesterday began implementing a landmark reform allowing women over the age of 21 to receive passports and travel abroad without permission from a male “guardian”, authorities said.

The reform, announced earlier this month, weakens the restrictive guardianship system that has long been a symbol of repression against women.

“The passport department has started receiving applications for women aged 21 and above to issue or renew passports and to travel outside the kingdom without permission,” the department said on Twitter.

Women in the kingdom have long required permission from their male “guardians” — husband, father and other male relatives — for these tasks, a restriction that drew international censure.

The reform comes after high-profile attempts by women to escape alleged guardianship abuse despite a string of reforms by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, including a landmark decree last year that overturned the world’s only ban on women drivers.

In other changes unveiled earlier this month, Saudi women were also granted the right to officially register childbirth, marriage or divorce and to be recognised as a guardian to children who are minors —same as men.

The reforms were widely celebrated in the kingdom, but they also drew backlash from arch-conservatives, many of whom shared old video sermons on social media by Saudi clerics advocating guardianship laws.

Some also denounced the change as “unIslamic” in a society that traditionally sees men as protectors of women.

The reform comes as the OPEC petroleum producer reels from low oil prices and seeks to boost employment opportunities for women — currently facing chronic joblessness.

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26-year-old determined to preserve Jamaica’s cultural heritage

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26-year-old determined to preserve Jamaica’s cultural heritage

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

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More than 220 Jamaicans have been awarded Chevening Scholarships since it was first introduced in 1983. Chevening is the United Kingdom Government’s global scholarship programme that offers future leaders the opportunity to study in the UK. This year, 19 outstanding young Jamaicans were selected for the scholarships. Over this week the Jamaica Observer will share the stories of some of the 2019-2020 awardees.

 

IT was Jamaica’s first National Hero Marcus Garvey who said: “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots,” and this holds true for 2019/2020 Chevening Scholarship awardee Chantelle Richardson.

A special collections librarian at National Library of Jamaica (NLJ), Richardson will be undertaking a research-based fellowship on digitised archival material from Latin America and the Caribbean at The British Library.

When she completes her course of study, the 26-year-old, who is from Manchester, is determined to use her expertise to aid in the digital preservation of several Jamaican maps, manuscripts, newspapers, and photographs that are an integral part of the country’s rich cultural heritage.

“I am extremely passionate about preserving the nation’s irreplaceable cultural heritage, and I plan on using the knowledge and skills gained from the fellowship to tangibly digitise material unique to Jamaica and the world,” said Richardson, who describes herself as an avid reader and lover of all things Jamaican.

One of the major deliverables of this fellowship opportunity is to identify and liaise with a local partner institution to manage an Eccles Centre for American Studies-funded conference.

The theme of the conference will be based on Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) content, and will also include an element of training on applying to EAP for funding.

“I believe this will prove an essential step in helping to provide the necessary training for local bodies who manage cultural emblems,” Richardson stressed.

She also highlighted the fact that the NLJ houses the most extensive newspaper collection in the region, dating back to the 1700s, and the information on those pages is vital to the understanding of how life was in the past and how it can be made better for the future.

According to Richardson, the fellowship will also help to improve access to many resources housed at the NLJ and other regional institutions, through digitisation.

Richardson sees Chevening as an excellent medium through which young leaders, like herself, can come together to make meaningful changes in the society.

“My long-term objective is to aid the generation coming up to have a better appreciation for the contribution made by our forefathers and to actively engage in activities that will improve their lives.

“Upon returning to my country I also plan to execute a three-year developmental plan, which will engage persons in the library and information field, my community, and the wider society to improve the preservation of archival materials. In addition to the funded conference with training components, I will also strive to have information sessions, webinars, and social media campaigns aimed at preserving our cultural legacy,” said Richardson.

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Forest fires in Brazil surge as deforestation accelerates

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Forest fires in Brazil surge as deforestation accelerates

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

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Sao Paulo, Brazil (AFP) — The number of forest fires in Brazil surged in the first eight months of 2019, official data show, as President Jair Bolsonaro faces growing criticism over rampant destruction of the Amazon.

Nearly 73,000 fires were recorded between January and August, compared with 39,759 in all of 2018, the embattled National Institute for Space Research (INPE) said late Monday.

That is the highest number of forest fires for any year since 2013 and follows two years of declines.

“What we are seeing is a consequence of the increase in deforestation seen in recent figures,” said Ricardo Mello of World Wildlife Fund (WWF)’s Amazon Program.

Forest fires tend to intensify during the dry season, which usually ends in late October or early November, as land is cleared to make way for crops or grazing.

The INPE figures show fires have been concentrated in States occupying the Amazon.

Thick smoke has blanketed several cities in recent days and even caused a commercial flight to be diverted.

The data comes as Bolsonaro faces growing criticism over his anti-environment rhetoric, which activists blame for emboldening loggers, miners and farmers in the Amazon.

Norway on Thursday joined Germany in halting Amazon protection subsidies, accusing Brazil of turning its back on the fight against deforestation.

The governors of nine States spanning the Amazon also published a statement on Sunday saying they would negotiate directly with the Amazon Fund contributors.

The latest INPE figures coincide with a United Nations (UN) regional meeting on climate change in Brazil ahead of December’s summit in Chile.

INPE is already in Bolsonaro’s crosshairs over data showing a surge in deforestation in recent months.

Bolsonaro dismissed the figures as lies and sacked the head of the agency tasked with tracking forest clearing.

Brazil leads the region in forest fires this year, according to the INPE data that is collected via satellite and updated in realtime.

Venezuela ranked second with 26,453 fires and Bolivia with 16,101.

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